Negative Thinking and Anxiety
Steps to a healthy mindset
What is Anxiety
Anxiety is having too much fear and worry. Some people have what's called generalized anxiety disorder. They feel worried and stressed about many things. Often they worry about even small things. Some people also may have panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden feeling of extreme anxiety.
People who have social anxiety disorder worry that they will do or say the wrong thing and embarrass themselves around others.
Anxiety can cause physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat and sweaty hands. It can make you limit your activities and can make it hard to enjoy your life.
Treating your thought process is just as important, if not more so, than treating a physical wound. Especially if thought processes stem from general anxiety, depression or another mental health condition. Negative thought patterns can onset slowly and left unchecked can become natural responses that trigger ongoing stress and anxiety.
The good news is that in the same way we can strengthen a muscle, we can also strengthen our thought patterns, and reprogram our thinking patterns.
1. Remove your 'should thoughts'
The word 'should' can often place pressure and expectations on you that are sometimes impossible to live up to. These expectations can then lead to guilt and frustration, and negative thoughts about yourself or your circumstances.
Choose helpful (and achievable) thoughts to replace the unhelpful one.
|I should go to the gym every day.||I will try my best to go to the gym every day. Here’s how…|
|I should eat healthier.||I can eat healthier today by doing these things…|
|I should stop thinking this way.||I see that I’m having anxious thoughts right now. What’s a more credible thought? What would I tell my best friend?|
|I should be able to get on a plane without anxiety.||I wish I wasn’t so afraid of flying, but I accept that I’m working at a solution. What can I do in this moment?|
2. Recognise your automatic thoughts
We all have our own internal self talk. It is the way in which we see, think and believe about ourselves and our experiences. For some, this running commentary can be distorted and form automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).
ANTs are persistent and learned, often repeating themes such as danger or fear. For people with anxiety, this way of thinking can leave you paralysed and panicked.
Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to help identify your automatic thoughts. Keep a notepad and write down your thoughts in three parts: the situation, the moods, your automatic thought or image. If you do this every day, you will begin to identify your automatic thoughts and start to take steps in gaining control of your emotions.
3. Put your thoughts 'on trial'
Once you have identified your automatic thoughts it is time to put them on trial and ask yourself if they are helpful or unhelpful. Is there evidence for this thought and does the past experience apply to the new experience? Some self-talk may be true, or it may be partial true but exaggerated.
One of the best ways to see if you are worrying too much is to look at the odds. What are the odds, or chances, that the bad thing you are worried about will happen? If you have a job review that has one small criticism among many compliments, what are the odds that you really are in danger of losing your job? The odds are probably low.
Once you have judged your thought you can form a new thought that considers all the evidence for and against you and change your self-talk to a positive dialogue. For example:
"My manager has given me positive feedback in the past and knows how hard I work".
4. Acknowledge when you are overwhelmed
There is power in acknowledging when you are feeling overwhelmed. Fighting against anxiety and stress consumes a lot of our mental and physical energy whereas embracing it takes less energy.
Understanding your anxiety and what it means is one of the first steps to managing the stress that comes with it. You may discover that there’s a trigger. When you find it, you can act to avoid or you may find yourself spending less time dreading it.
Remember, there’s always another option — even if it means opting out or saying no. If your anxiety or stress is based on a situation, ask yourself if you can opt out. Chances are you can!
It's ok to need help
There will be times when, no matter how hard you try to change your thought pattern, you can’t. And during those times, it’s important to remember that simply recognising the thought, or acknowledging the emotion is enough.
Forcing positive thoughts isn’t authentic or helpful, especially if you live with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.
If you find yourself in a thought pattern that you can’t shift out of, contact us today to talk to one of our registered psychologists.
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